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    Published on: April 28, 2020

    In a new series of weekly Retail Tomorrow podcasts, Sterling Hawkins, co-CEO and co-founder of CART-The Center for Advancing Retail & Technology, and MNB "Content Guy" Kevin Coupe team up to speculate, prognosticate, and formulate visions of what tomorrow's retail landscape will look like post-coronavirus.

    How will supermarkets be changed by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic?  How will restaurants be changed?  In the end, it almost certainly will depend on how consumers are changed - and for the moment, that's an open question, still to be determined by the degree to which the nation's citizens continue to shelter at home, and the extent to which the nation's businesses are able to open up.  While nobody knows for sure at this point, one thing is certain - it will never look the same across the landscape that we refer to as Retail Tomorrow.

    You can listen to this podcast here.

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    This week, Michael Sansolo turns to video to illustrate how one retailer - with which he has not always been thrilled - used an e-commerce order to deliver a 'wow' moment that has him rethinking previous judgements.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    KC has some thoughts about a criticism of yesterday's FaceTime video, and something he heard over the weekend that struck him as great - and authentic - storytelling worth emulating.

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Got the following email from longtime MNB reader Rich Heiland, who wanted tio draw my attention to something he'd seen that struck him as Eye-Opening.  And so, here is that email:

    If you ever have been to Galveston you’ve probably eaten at Gaido’s. It’s been around since 1911. They posted this on Facebook April 23. We always have eaten there but I am tempted now to drive nearly two hours just to get take out from them. I definitely am a customer for life. This just blew me away…

    In our entire history of 109 years, we never could have imagined the situation Galveston, the United States, and the entire world is in. We have faced many challenges such as financial hardship and hurricanes but even all the hurricanes we have faced do not amount to the damaging effect caused by the pandemic. Who is most affected? Our employees, our families, all citizens. What can we do about it?

    Starting today, we are bringing ALL of our staff back on board and will do our best to keep it that way.

    Effective immediately and for the next few weeks, Gaido’s and Nick’s will pay all hourly staff at least $15 an hour. The surge in pay will hopefully stabilize many household incomes that have been negatively affected.

    Our salaried managers will receive full performance BONUS for the next 4 weeks.

    Santa will be delivering Christmas BONUSES early.

    Every day, we will provide family meal for our entire staff, until we reopen our dining rooms.

    Finally, every Friday for the next 4 weeks (beginning tomorrow), Gaido’s is going to supply FREE meals to Galveston’s first responders including police, fire, and medical personnel. Meals will be available curbside in front of the BIG CRAB. Pick up times will be 11am-1pm and 5pm-7pm.

    For 109 years, our customers and employees have given so much to the Gaido Family. These are just a few ways we can say THANK YOU for all you have done to keep our business alive now and in the past. You, the people, are our future.

    Sincerely,

    Nick Gaido

    Rich Heiland was right.  That's an Eye-Opener.  I've never been to Galveston, to the best of my recollection, but if I'm ever there, I know where I want to go to dinner … 

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    Here's a total "worth reading" story from the Wall Street Journal.  It starts this way:

    "A dozen of America’s top scientists and a collection of billionaires and industry titans say they have the answer to the coronavirus pandemic, and they found a backdoor to deliver their plan to the White House.

    "The eclectic group is led by a 33-year-old physician-turned-venture capitalist, Tom Cahill, who lives far from the public eye in a one-bedroom rental near Boston’s Fenway Park. He owns just one suit, but he has enough lofty connections to influence government decisions in the war against Covid-19.

    "These scientists and their backers describe their work as a lockdown-era Manhattan Project, a nod to the World War II group of scientists who helped develop the atomic bomb. This time around, the scientists are marshaling brains and money to distill unorthodox ideas gleaned from around the globe … This group, whose work hasn’t been previously reported, has acted as the go-between for pharmaceutical companies looking for a reputable link to Trump administration decision makers. They are working remotely as an ad hoc review board for the flood of research on the coronavirus, weeding out flawed studies before they reach policy makers."

    The group is made up of "chemical biologists, an immunobiologist, a neurobiologist, a chronobiologist, an oncologist, a gastroenterologist, an epidemiologist and a nuclear scientist. Of the scientists at the center of the project, biologist Michael Rosbash, a 2017 Nobel Prize winner, said, 'There’s no question that I’m the least qualified'."

    You can read the entire, fascinating story here.

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    The Boston Globe has a piece speculating about the future of retail, writing:  "As we all look ahead to the still-distant day when we can indulge in simple pleasures like grabbing coffee in Harvard Square, browsing Back Bay boutiques, or ordering drinks with friends at a favorite neighborhood haunt, we wonder: What will the new normal feel like? How will coronavirus remake us as consumers, changing what we buy, where we buy it, and why?"

    “There’s an old phrase, it takes 30 days to make a habit,” Erik Rosenstrauch, founder of retail marketing firm Fuel Partnerships, tells the Globe. “Now we’ve all had 30 days stuck at home to begin developing new habits.”

    Among the shifts that experts tell the Globe are likely to occur:  

    Greater price sensitivity, driven by the recession in which the nation has plunged … "more take-out, fewer food halls," as people remain concerned about gathering in large crowds in enclosed spaces … "new models will emerge when restaurants close," as chefs ands restaurateurs turns to ghost kitchens and hybrid restaurant-markets to satisfy consumers and their own need for culinary creativity … "department stores are DOA, and malls may be next" … and "mobile payments and e-commerce will thrive."

    The Globe also suggests that in the nation's supermarkets, established brands that have reconnected with consumers during the pandemic could make grocery shopping a more nostalgic exercise than it has been in the past, making it harder for new and untested brands to break through.  And while e-grocery has taken off during the pandemic, experts question whether it can maintain current levels when things return to normal.

    KC's View:

    I agree with a lot of what the experts tell the Globe, but with some caveats.

    One is that we have no idea how long the current situation will last, and so it is hard to know how ingrained new habits will be.  It seems possible that people could go back to old habits thinking we're going to have a V-shaped recovery, only to be surprised and dismayed if the recovery ends up being W-shaped.  If that happens, changed habits could end up being a lot longer-lasting, because we'll have a reduced level of faith in any recovery.

    I'm not sure I entirely buy the grocery-shopping-as-nostalgia argument.  I think that will be true in some cases, but there will be a number of businesses - maybe even grocery stores that create new alliances with those chefs and restaurateurs - that will themselves create new models and find ways to appeal to the highest common denominator.

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The number of confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus in the US has now passed one million - as of this morning, the number stands at 1,010,507, with 56,803 deaths and 139,162 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 3,081,213 reported coronavirus cases, with 212, 336 deaths and 930,607 reported recoveries.

    To put this into context, the US now has more than four times the number of cases as Spain, which is second … or about as many cases as Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the UK and Turkey combined.  (Those are the second-through-seventh countries in terms of cases.)


    •  Axios reports on a new survey showing that "nearly nine in 10 Americans now worry about the U.S. economy collapsing, a view that transcends party lines, according to the latest installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index."

    That's right - worries about a collapse of the US economy is now bipartisan 0- 89 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans are now concerned about it.

    The numbers aren't quite as even when it comes to worries about the economy re-opening too soon - 88 percent of Democrats and 56 of Republicans feel that way.

    And here's something really remarkable from the survey:

    "The survey shows an especially grim way Democrats have been affected by the pandemic: They're twice as likely (15%) as Republicans (8%) to know someone who died.

    "African Americans (28%) are three times as likely as white people (9%) and twice as likely as Hispanics (13%) to know someone who has died.

    "People who live in the Northeast (25%) are more than three times as likely as those in the West (7%) or Midwest (8%) and twice as likely as those in the South (12%)to know someone who died."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The Trump administration is prepared to send all 50 states enough tests to screen at least 2% of residents for the new coronavirus, a senior administration official said Monday, with the aim of rapidly expanding supplies in the coming weeks as the nation’s leaders look to reopen parts of the economy."

    “We’re deploying the full power and strength of the federal government to help states, cities, to help local governments get this horrible plague over with,” Trump told reporters yesterday.

    The Journal writes that "Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration official overseeing coronavirus testing efforts, said the federal government would be able to supply every state with the supplies and tests they need to 'dramatically increase' the number of tests.

    "The lack of widely available coronavirus tests has been a chief complaint from business leaders whom the Trump administration leaned on for economic advice. Mr. Trump told reporters on March 6 that anyone who wanted a test could get a test, a promise that remains unfulfilled."


    •  Forbes reports that "CVS Health, Walgreens, Walmart and other retailers with pharmacies are prepping hundreds of parking lots and store drive-thru windows in a much-anticipated effort to test Americans for the Coronavirus strain COVID-19.

    "The nation’s largest drugstore chains and other big retailers with pharmacies and related capabilities pledged more than a month ago in a White House meeting to aid the federal government and local health officials in providing access to COVID-19 testing. But testing in these locations, which number about 70 across the country so far, has been slow to roll out and thus far largely considered piloting of efforts to test healthcare workers and first responders and others on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

    "But a follow-up meeting Monday at the White House has revealed a new wave of testing locations CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart called the 'next phase' to use their 'expansive community presence to bring testing closer to home while maintaining strict safety standards,' as one of the retailers said … By the end of May, there could be nearly 2,000 retail sites open with CVS alone promising up to 1,000 sites."

    Not to be cynical, but I'll believe it when I see it.  Covid-19 testing in this country strikes me as being FUBAR.


    •  The Washington Post reports that "Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer says a return to nearly normal life is possible this summer if the United States does wide-scale testing for the coronavirus.

    "Romer is calling on the U.S. government to test everyone in the nation once every two weeks and isolate people who test positive for the deadly coronavirus. He estimates that doing so would cost $100 billion, a hefty sum but far less than the $2 trillion Congress has spent so far and less than the cost of keeping the economy partly closed for months to come."

    The Post writes that "so far, the nation has tested about 5 million people — or less than 2 percent of the population. Last week, Congress approved an additional $25 billion for testing as part of the latest funding bill, which Romer calls a good start but not enough."

    “I’m on the optimistic end of how quickly we can scale testing up,” said Romer, who won the 2018 Nobel Prize for economics. “I do think there’s a way most people could feel safe returning to what feels like normal life this summer if we do this wide-scale testing.”


    •  The Associated Press reports that draft guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers new advice - not requirements - that would help restaurants, schools, churches and businesses safely reopen in coming weeks and months.

    Among the suggestions:  "In the initial reopening phases, schools should space desks six feet apart, nix any field trips and school assemblies, and have students eat lunch in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria … Churches should hold services through video streaming or at drive-in or outdoor venues as much as possible. They should also encourage everyone to wear cloth face masks, use a stationary collection box, and schedule extra services if necessary to make sure church pews are not packed and congregants stay at least six feet from each other … Restaurants should consider using throwaway menus, single-service condiments, and disposable forks, knives, spoons, and dishes. They should install sneeze guards at cash registers, limit the number of employees on a shift, and avoid having buffets, salad bars, and drink stations."

    The AP story emphasizes that "the new guidance still amounts to little more than advice. State and local officials will be the ones to adopt and enforce them. Some state and local governments have already put rules in place for businesses that are operating. For example, Michigan requires businesses to limit how many customers can be in a store at one time.

    "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday said that each business that wants to reopen will have to submit a plan to the state on how to do that.

    "The new guidance could give state officials cover if their requirements for businesses are challenged in the courts."

    The AP also points out that the Trump administration could still edit and change the guidance before officially releasing it to the public.  The guidance was provided to the AP by a federal official "who was not authorized to release them publicly."

    Which kind of sounds like someone at the CDC is trying to reduce any potential editing by the White House, as the continuing tensions between health experts and administration economists play out against the landscape of the pandemic.


    •  The Washington Post reports that the CDC also "released joint coronavirus guidance Sunday for meat processing and packing facilities amid widespread outbreaks that have killed at least 17 workers, sickened more than 3,000 and threatened the national food supply … The interim guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration outlines procedures for cleaning shared equipment and reconfiguring workstations.

    "The guidance includes how companies can use physical barriers to create at least six feet between employees, who typically stand shoulder to shoulder in the plants.

    It also calls for use of personal protective equipment and changes to attendance policies so employees aren’t penalized for taking sick leave if they have the coronavirus."

    The Post notes that "major meat companies and OSHA have come under fire for failing to protect workers in the face of fast-spreading outbreaks. Many workers say companies put production over their safety and have failed to provide adequate PPE and promote social distancing. Others say they’ve been encouraged to stay on the job while sick. And though OSHA’s newly released meatpacking and processing guidance offers more detail on practices to protect workers, such guidance remains voluntary."


    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that "the growing threat of a meat shortage is helping to lift shares of plant-based protein manufacturer Beyond Meat Inc.

    The stock price of the El Segundo-based company jumped 41% last week, its biggest weekly gain since going public in May. The advance followed news of food plant closures that could reduce the amount of pork and beef products available for U.S. shoppers in the near future … A surge in demand could provide some needed relief for Beyond Meat, whose revenue depends heavily on food service and restaurant businesses pummeled by social-distancing measures and stay-at-home orders."


    •  Hy-Vee announced that "all store and distribution center employees throughout its eight-state region are now required to wear masks or other facial coverings while at work in response to the evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

    "Hy-Vee provided masks to all employees over the past several weeks. Effective today, wearing a mask or other facial covering inside Hy-Vee stores is mandatory for employees to help protect both our employees and customers."


    •  Kroger Health said yesterday that it "plans to expand its drive-thru COVID-19 testing model to 50 locations in more than 12 states to perform up to 100,000 tests by the end of May. To date, Kroger Health has performed nearly 8,000 tests in 30 locations in Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The company has also launched a pilot for site-specific testing for company associates in Michigan and Colorado … A key enabler of this expansion is pharmacists’ ability to order and administer testing. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement on Authorizing Licensed Pharmacists to Order and Administer COVID-19 Tests."


    •  The Boston Globe reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop "will extend a pay hike for unionized workers through May, in what it said is a gesture of appreciation for the employees who have been continuing to report to work amid the coronavirus crisis."

    The story says that "Stop & Shop also joined other grocery industry players ― including the owner of Shaw’s and Star Market ― in calling for workers to have supermarket employees designated as extended first responders or emergency personnel, which would give them priority for coronavirus testing and access to protective equipment.

    "Massachusetts is one of several states, including Massachusetts, where workers now have access to emergency child care."

    I ask this not to diminish the importance of extending pay increases, but rather to point out something that needs to be considered:  Does this mean that at some point workers are going to have to take what essentially is a pay cut, and be told that they are a little less essential to the success of the business than they were before?  I'm not sure that this is a sustainable argument.  Now, businesses (I'm not just referring to Stop & Shop here) may have the upper hand for the time being because of high unemployment rates that make it a buyer's market, but that won't always be the case.

    I think that the essential nature of employees cannot be thought of as ephemeral, at least not if businesses want their workers to feel invested in their mission, as opposed to just cogs in the machine.  


    •  CNBC  reports that "Amazon is extending wage increases for warehouse workers amid the coronavirus outbreak, the company announced Friday.

    "In March, Amazon said it would raise hourly wages and provide double overtime for warehouse and delivery workers. The company is now extending both of those benefits through May 16. "

    The story goes on:  "Amazon previously said it would provide double overtime pay through May 9, while the hourly wage increase was set to expire at the end of April. 

    The company didn’t indicate any plans to extend its unlimited unpaid time off policy, which was announced in March. The policy allowed workers to stay home without pay and not face any penalties for being absent."

    Same questions as with Stop & Shop.


    •  Tyler, Texas-based Brookshire Grocery Co. announced that it "is giving its nearly 14,000 retail employees an additional special bonus installment that equals up to a half-week’s pay. This second discretionary bonus complements the first bonus given in March for a total of one-week’s pay. This is in addition to a temporary pay increase of $1 per hour through May 1, 2020."

    The company said that it "has already invested $8 million including the first half-week’s bonus pay, increased wages for those in our stores and logistics, an extra employee discount, on-site meals, and a compensation plan for those who may be directly affected by COVID-19. The company has also made several favorable changes to benefits including temporarily waiving co-pays for medical services delivered via MDLive."


    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "roughly half of all U.S. workers stand to earn more in unemployment benefits than they did at their jobs before the coronavirus pandemic shut down wide swaths of the U.S. economy, and employers say the government relief is complicating plans to reopen businesses.

    "The package of coronavirus stimulus laws Congress passed and President Trump signed in March included a $600 boost to weekly unemployment benefits through July 31. As that support is added to state benefits over the coming weeks, the average weekly payment to a laid-off worker should rise to about $978 from the $377.97 the Labor Department said was paid on average late last year."


    •  Sad story in the Boston Globe about Amaral’s Market in Fall River, Massachusetts, which for more than four decades was "a pillar of the city’s Portuguese community, a family-run store stocked full of homeland specialties: fresh seafood, tomatillos and serrano peppers, chorizo from the in-house butcher.

    "Sisters Laudalina and Juvenalia Amaral staffed the registers while their kids bagged the groceries. Customers came from miles around."

    But, the Globe writes, "in the space of just three days, the Amaral sisters and Juvenalia’s daughter, Grace Amaral-Dias, died from COVID-19, a family tragedy that has touched off an outpouring of grief across the city and beyond … The entrance to the shuttered market is now a shrine. A mound of bouquets is piled at the doors, wilting sunflowers, dozens of roses, a vibrant pink orchid. Tucked among potted chrysanthemums and a tall white lily, are prayer candles, and a statuette of a patron saint. Cellophane-wrapped bunches of carnations are taped to the glass doors."

    The Globe story makes it clear that that Amaral family always was an essential member of a community that spanned both faith and commerce, and in many ways defined the deep Portuguese roots that are planted in Fall River.  This is a sad story, devastating for the people it directly affects, but also instructive for businesses that wonder about the nature of being essential.


    •  Axios reports that "plants in more than a dozen states have closed in recent weeks, spanning beef, pork, poultry and fish," and "many more plants are struggling to remain open despite significant outbreaks."

    One reality:  "More than 25% of U.S. pork production is now offline because of plant closures," with Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee saying that shortages of pork could occur "as soon as next week," and that "60,000–70,000 pigs a day will need to be euthanized" because of supply chain breakdowns.

    Axios writes that the bottom line is that "America's farmers have long feared that everyday citizens were clueless about how their food gets made.  Unfortunately, it appears that this education is now happening in a flash."

    They've got that right.   


    •  From the New York Times:

    " Amazon may have violated federal worker safety laws and New York State’s whistle-blower protections when it fired an employee from its Staten Island warehouse who protested the company’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a letter the office of the New York attorney general, Letitia James, sent the company last week."

    The story notes that "Amazon has been under pressure for the safety of its hundreds of thousands of workers who are packing and shipping products to millions of homebound Americans in the pandemic. The company has rolled out various safety measures at its warehouses across the country, such as temperature checks and mandatory masks, but it has faced protests at several facilities from employees who have said they feel unsafe. As of early April, workers at more than 50 of its warehouses in the United States had contracted the coronavirus."

    I've said this before, but I'll repeat it.  Amazon has allowed this narrative to get away from it, and while I recognize that it is of a size that makes it hard to resolve these issues, that's no excuse.  Amazon has to bring the same sort of alacrity it brings to all its other endeavors to fix this problem in a way that is persuasive, transparent and effective.


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "New York election officials took the unprecedented step on Monday of canceling the state’s Democratic presidential primary to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus."  The GOP primary already had been cancelled because only one name - Donald Trump's - was on the ballot.

    The story says that "Democratic commissioners of the State Board of Elections approved a resolution that removed 10 candidates from the primary ballot who had publicly stated they were suspending their campaigns. That included U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose campaign said Sunday that it would like the primary to move forward. The primary was scheduled for June 23."


    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that American Airlines "said Monday that passengers will be handed a mask and hand sanitizer when boarding some flights, starting in early May. Travelers will be urged to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to wear a face mask, but the airline won’t require masks onboard."

    JetBlue, the story says, announced "that all passengers will be required to wear face coverings during travel," though it will not provide them.

    The story notes that "American, JetBlue, United, Delta and Frontier airlines have all begun requiring flight attendants to wear masks while performing their duties in the air. Some airlines are requiring masks for all employees who can’t keep six feet away from other workers and passengers."


    •  The Wall Street Journal has a story about how, "stuck at home and unable to visit bars and restaurants, social drinkers are drinking more to wind down, or 'wine' down, after frenzied days juggling working from home and managing children or families. To relieve pandemic anxiety, or to preserve a positive outlook and social routines in a dark time, many have participated in virtual cocktail hours or poured a drink for a video call with friends."

    The result:  "Sales of alcohol at U.S. liquor and grocery stores have risen nearly 26% from the week ending March 7 through the week ending April 11, compared with the same period a year ago, according to research firm Nielsen. Online alcohol sales have soared week after week, Nielsen added, while many states are temporarily allowing restaurants and bars to make home deliveries or sell wine and cocktails for takeout."

    However, "the World Health Organization has called on governments world-wide to warn citizens that increased drinking at home could be a slippery slope into alcoholism … Excessive drinking could lead to serious problems including mental health issues, domestic violence and accidents, said Jonathan Avery, director of addiction psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. Even social drinkers should watch that their increase doesn’t slip into a problem."


    •  Bloomberg reports that Apple expects "to reopen 'many more' of its retail stores in May after closing all locations outside of China in March due to Covid-19."

    According to the story, "Deirdre O’Brien, vice president of retail and people, made the disclosure in a weekly video update, according to retail employees familiar with the matter. She didn’t specify which stores or regions, but said 'we are continuing to analyze this health situation in every location, and I do expect we will reopen up many more stores in May'."


    •  One upside of the pandemic:  Disney has decided to release Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker for streaming two months earlier than originally planned to satisfy an audience largely sheltered at home.  The movie - the last in the third trilogy centering on the Skywalker saga - will be available on the Disney+ streaming service next Monday, May 4.


    •  From CNN:

    The Olympics could be canceled if the Covid-19 pandemic continues into next year, according to the Tokyo 2020 president.

    "The Games are scheduled to start from July 23, 2021, having already been postponed a year amid the virus outbreak.

    "This would be the strongest statement on canceling the Olympics and Paralympics from organizers, who have routinely said they are focusing on plans to hold the Games.

    "Asked in an interview with Nikkan Sports about another postponement of the event if the virus is ongoing, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said: 'No. It will be canceled then'."


    •  Want to know why some states - especially California - might find it hard to "reopen" their economies?

    Go no farther than this picture from the New York Times, of the people who flocked to Huntington Beach in Southern California last weekend when the weather got really warm.

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    •  Interesting piece in the Washington Post  about technology giants that " spent much of the last year playing defense, fending off dozens of federal and state antitrust investigations and a public wary of their power" now have seen a "dramatic reversal of fortune."

    The Post writes:  "Amazon and Facebook are capitalizing on the fact that they are viewed as essential services for a public in lockdown, while Google and Apple are building tools that will enable state health departments to provide a critical public service, tracing the course of potential new covid-19 infections.

    "The pace of the probes against these companies has slowed as regulators and lawyers are forced to work from home. Emboldened tech lobbyists are fighting to delay the enforcement of a new privacy law this summer in California, saying they can’t comply by the July deadline due to the upheaval … And while the global economy faces potential unemployment and contraction not seen since the Great Depression, the tech giants — and a handful of medium-size tech firms — are already benefiting from new consumer habits initiated during the lockdowns that analysts believe will turn into longer-term shifts in how people shop, work and entertain themselves."

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    •  Reuters reports that "an investor group that comprises investment firm Mudrick Capital Management LP and Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund Third Point LLC plans to challenge a $600 million financing package that Neiman Marcus Group has lined up for its looming bankruptcy," and instead call for the retailer to sell itself.

    The story says that debt-laden Neiman Marcus's "sales all but evaporated after the coronavirus outbreak forced it to temporarily shut all 43 of its Neiman Marcus locations, roughly two dozen Last Call stores and its two Bergdorf Goodman stores in New York."   The retailer apparently is close to lining up a deal through which creditors would "forgive most of the $5 billion in Neiman Marcus’s debt in exchange for taking ownership of the retailer."  But the investor group wants Neiman Marcus to just sell itself outright.

    I still cannot help but wonder who would want to buy it … and if it is possible to run Neiman Marcus as a going concern with a sustainable future.  Or to put it another way … if it were gone, would anyone miss it?  (Its demise may have been accelerated by the coronavirus, but its problems seem far deeper than that.)

    •  Nielsen reports that Q1 dollar sales of private label products were up  to $38.4 billion, with private brands up year-over-year 14.6 percent in dollar volume and 12.8 percent in unit volume.

    “There’s no doubt that shopper behavior was highly influenced by consumer fears,” said Brian Sharoff, president of the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA).

    “Nonetheless, the statistics point to greater acceptance of retailer brands as the coronavirus crisis evolves.”

    Published on: April 28, 2020

    Yesterday we took note of a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece about a prominent scientist, John Ioannidis, who is at odds with the conventional wisdom about how to deal with the pandemic:

    "Dr. Ioannidis argued that Covid-19 is far less deadly than modelers were assuming. He considered the experience of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined Feb. 4 in Japan. Nine of 700 infected passengers and crew died. Based on the demographics of the ship’s population, Dr. Ioannidis estimated that the U.S. fatality rate could be as low as 0.025% to 0.625% and put the upper bound at 0.05% to 1%—comparable to that of seasonal flu.  'If that is the true rate,' he wrote, 'locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational. It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies'."

    One MNB reader responded:

    If Professor Ioannidis was truly acting in his capacity as a scientist and statistician (rather than someone being ‘transparently political’), wouldn’t the most effective answer to his own question “what’s the next step …” be “test more people to get a larger sample”? 

    MNB reader Gregory Gheen had a thought regarding the SNL parody commercial for "Bartenson's Grocery Store," in which clerks played by Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant make their sales pitch:  “We want to give you what you want, but first we need you to buy what we have.”

    This story reminded me of the first couple of weeks of the pandemic. In the meat department, the shelves that were normally full of chicken, beef, pork, etc were totally empty. The only thing left on the shelf was a 2-4 foot/4 shelf section of plant based meat products, fully stocked. Even in desperation folks weren't buying it! 

    Regarding the current travails facing the post office, one MNB reader wrote:

    Is it outside the realm of possibility for Amazon to buy the USPS?

    Dunno.  Is it inside the realm of reality that the government would sell the USPS to Amazon?

    And from MNB reader Bill Tierney:

    I am in agreement, realignment of how the USPS operates is necessary, starting with its end to pre-fund retirements.  Bottom line, we need the USPS.

    And responding to yesterday's FaceTime video, MNB reader Beth Goldberg wrote:

    First – that banana bread looks so good!

    I wanted to tell you my local Starbucks is now taking mobile orders. I thought it was a mirage, but on Saturday, as my dog and I were out walking, I saw a hand-written “OPEN” sign saying mobile orders were being accepted. So I got out my phone, placed an order, stepped up to the front doors (they had a table right at the doors, inside), and I was able to pick up my order with maybe a 2 minute wait. They’re located on King Street in Old Town, Alexandria, VA.

    Safeway’s Starbucks cafes are operating, but it was a real treat to be able to get a drink while I was out walking my dog.

    Good to know.  I look forward when the one in my town does the same.